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Referrals and Child Protection in England: One in Five Children Referred to Children’s Services and One in Nineteen Investigated before the Age of Five

Based on a Freedom of Information request with data from 75 per cent of all English children’s services departments covering over half a million children, this paper shows that 22.5 per cent of children born in the 2009–10 financial year were referred to children’s social care before their fifth birthday. Three-quarters of them were at some point assessed, almost two-thirds found to be in need and a quarter formally investigated. These findings show the full extent of children’s involvement in children’s social care before the age of five. One in every nine children born in 2009–10 was suspected by social workers of being abused and this high level of involvement is only justifiable if it is demonstrably reducing harm and promoting well-being of children— an outcome which is contested. Early Help’s introduction was associated with high proportions of children being referred and assessed and rapidly increasing numbers of investigations, thus questioning its ability to prevent entry to the child protection system. The paper calls for a change from the current emphasis on individualised and investigative approaches to child protection in order to provide an effective and humane response to children, the majority of whom live in families affected by high levels of deprivation and poverty.